Things Orphean

I have a first draft of my Day 7 poem, which I finished before the delivery guy dropped off dinner for us.  But even as full of Chinese food as I am, the MSG haze isn’t clouding my knowledge that the poem “Beware the Maenads” has problems.  It’s those last three lines that are especially troubling me… they don’t pack the punch that the end of a poem ought to have, and I think they are kind of “announcey.”  Too “here’s the point of the poem” to be poetry.  I hate it when that happens.

My poem is not really about Orpheus–but rather, it focuses on the Maenads, who were devout acolytes of Dionysus known to get drunk, dance insanely, have wild sex parties–and in their inebriation, go on crazed hunts where they tore the flesh off animals.   According to myth, Orpheus dies at their hands (as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog) because he had given up worshiping Dionysus and became instead a follower of Apollo.  Then he has the bad taste to basically give homage to Apollo in a Dionysian temple.  I mean really, if you’re going to worship a competing god in the wrong temple, maybe you deserve to be torn to shreds.  

Anyway, on the plus side, the poem is much shorter than yesterday’s–13 lines.  And I’m hoping that I can rework the ending and maybe cut it to 12.  That way I can write normal-sized on the postcard.

The Death of Orpheus (1876) by Dagnan-Bouveret is dated 20 years before Séon’s Lament of Orpheus painting.  I wish I had some background in art–for instance, I wonder if Séon had seen Dagan-Bouveret’s painting–if the reason Séon’s Orpheus has flung his arm over his eyes is because he was echoing the earlier painting.  Not that it matters, but it’s interesting to me to speculate.  Or, perhaps  many Orpheus pictures have the flung arm over the eyes bit–maybe it’s iconographic, like Sebastian being peppered with arrows is.

Another reason that I wish I had more than a passing knowledge of art is because the other group members in my writing group (the DYPS) particularly Bob Wood, are always bringing in ekphrastic poems and I feel like a complete idiot because I generally never know the work they’re writing about.  It’s a real defeciency in my humanities background.  I’ve had four college art classes in my life–a basic survey of art, one Greek Art class, a drawing class, and a class focusing on color–which makes me about as knowledgible as a kindergardener.

My mother inherited these beautiful Time-Life (?) art books from Gramma when she died in 2006, and I had great plans to read them and educate myself on art so that I could write ekphrastic poems with the best of ’em.  But the only one I kind of read was on Vermeer, and I love his paintings, but the rest of them I’ve never looked at.  

As you can see, I have a real hole in my education.  It’s really kind of embarrassing.  I like art a lot and I have little pockets of knowlege, like I’ll remember an artist or a title, but more than that there’s nothing.  It’s not like my Mom didn’t expose us to art, either, because she did, and I love museums, but I’m just woefully ignorant.  And short of taking a History of Art class, I don’t know that much will change.  Alas.

I Can Has Poem Plz?

Today has not been successful when it comes to writing–as in, no poem writing has taken place.  Part of the problem was I really couldn’t decide which picture to use–there were two about Orpheus, who, because he was known for his poetry and musical ability, has always interested me.  

The first choice was the Lament of Orpheus, by Alexandre Séon (1855-1917), which I like because he’s destraught on the beach, one arm wrapped over his eyes, the other clutching a lyre made from a turtle shell,  after he’s come back from the Underworld, but lost Eurydice for the second time.   In fact, according to myth, after he lost he again, he was never to love another woman, and chose instead young men.   Something about his grief and love for Eurydice moves me.  

The other Orpheus picture, The Death of Orpheus, by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret (that’s a name for you!) (1852-1929), also shows Orpheus flinging his left arm over his eyes.  In the link I’ve provided, the color is much darker; in the postcard I have, it’s much more mossy-colored, and there is a strange, almost ethereal green hint to his skin tone.  I like this picture because of the forest setting, but I have a hard time thinking he’s dead here because he is, after all, standing up.  And he frankly doesn’t look like he’s been ripped to shreds by the Maenads.  Not to be lurid, but according to myth, his head needs to not be part of his body.

So, herein lies the quandary.  Do I write about Orpheus’ death, in which his head and lyre are carried to the Isle of Lesbos and enshrined, or do I write about his deep, abiding love for his lost wife?  Or, should I pick another picture entirely so I can eliminate having to pick between the two? 

Maybe I’m just not feeling Orpheusy.   There are plenty of other myths in my postcard book to choose from.  Of course, who’s to say that I’ll feel inspired enough by any of the others?


Ok, so I wrote a poem based on Séon’s picture, and I like it–I mean, it’s got the usual early draft problems, but the main issue is that it’s 21 lines long (not counting the spaces between each tercet), and there is NO WAY I can handwrite the poem on the back of the post card.   I think even if I typed it up in tiny font, and glued it to the back of the card, I would be hard-pressed to get it to fit.  So I’m thinking I might have to either pare it way down, or just write something else.  Anyway, the title is “You Looked Back.”

Tomorrow, I will try to write another, shorter poem about Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as write on Dagnan-Bouveret’s painting.  I hope.

Sexy St. Sebastian

As difficult as it was to write yesterday’s APPF poem, today’s was just that easy.

The postcard was St. Sebastian by Nicolas Régnier (1590-1667), and naturally, I was curious why this picture was included in the Hidden Love book.  So I checked him out, and found a very interesting article in The Independent that details St. Sebastian’s long-standing position as a Gay Icon.

From its inclusion in the book, I thought it just had to do with his being young and beautiful and practically naked (and pierced by phallic arrows no less), but the real way his image became homoeroticized was a bit more involved.  Because the Romans prayed to St. Sebastian during the Black Plague since he was known to have survived the arrow attack, and the epidemic miraculously ended, he became ultra popular as a saint, favorited by everyone.

Even though the historical St. Sebastian was in his 40s, wrinkled and grizzly, before he was actually clubbed to death, even in Middle Ages, peopled idolized beauty.  They wanted their saints to be gorgeous and blooming even as they’re dying, and artists couldn’t agree more.  So, he got a Cosmo makeover,  and he became an ever youthful pin-up boy of martyrdom.

So the poem I wrote, simply titled “St. Sebastian,” is basically a lecherous sonnet about ogling him.  I really like it.  Is it a great poem?  Probably not.  But there’s something titillating about eroticizing a saint and lusting after him (even if I’m not the first to do it).

Of course, not everyone would have been a fan of sexualizing the sacred.  The Church recognized the problem of the lone nude figure in art during the as Shiela Barker discusses in her essay “The Making of a Plague Saint” in Piety and Plague:  from Byzantium to the Baroque, which explains why St. Irene begins to appear in paintings with St. Sebastian.  The Church was afraid young women would experience lustful urges–which Irene’s appearance would theoretically quell.

Of course, if you have a perverse mind like I sometimes do, what’s to prevent you from thinking about corrupting both of them?  But I digress.  The point is, the poem is written and dropped in the mail, and I am extremely happy about it.

Day 5 Postcard Poem: FAIL

Alright, I admit it, I didn’t sent out a postcard today.  I’m still working on the poem, which was going to be based on Donato Creti’s The Education of Achilles by Chiron, but it just wasn’t coming.  

I think the problem is I don’t really dig Achilles.   He had a bad attitude and a bum heel, big whoop.   Chiron is much more interesting, being a tender but strong Centaur whose interests include medicine and astrology.  So I mostly wrote about him, but the poem has too many abstract words in it.  It’s just not gelling.  

And I would just choose another image and try to throw a new poem together, but I’ve already written the name and address of the person I was to send it to, plus stamped it.  So I’m a little bit stuck.  Chris is at his club this evening, so I plan to work on the poem some more.  Perhaps the silence will help.

So I had been thinking that no one was sending me poems for APPF.  But today when I checked the mail, not only were there 4 postcards, there were about 400 bills, magazines, and ads.  Clearly, the USPS just hadn’t been in the mood to deliver my mail.  

These are the authors and titles of the poems I’ve received:

  • Josie Emmons Turner, “Ella vive”
  • Andrea Bates, “Last Chair of Summer”
  • Russ Golata, “Ambient”
  • Someone who didn’t put her name, “I am 3 years now past you” (which was really the first line of the poem)

I tried doing some detective work on the anonymous poem, by looking at the master list and counting back several days, but of course the postmark on the card (which was kind of fun because she handmade by gluing pictures from a magazine on an index card) is blurred.

You can’t beat 4 pieces of personal mail in one day, but I think I’d rather have it spread out over 4 days just the same.  It’s hard to take it all in.

In other news, I sent off a chapbook today (not the one I mentioned the other day where I wanted to put together “left over” poems)–this is the sixth press I’m sending it to.   What was really nice about this press was that it only had a $10 fee–which is practically a gift.   We’ll see.  I also sent a submission out to a couple of journals.  Hopefully, something good will happen.

Alright, I’ve put off writing my poem long enough.  I didn’t forget you, Chiron, I promise.  I was just temporarily avoiding you.


For better or for worse, I’ve finished it.  “Horse Sense” still has a lot of abstract language in it, which I hope can be improved when I bring it to the DYPS (my writing group), but the postcard will go out in tomorrow’s mail as is.  I don’t think the poem is terrible, and as I said, the last line is very good.  The one thing I couldn’t do on the postcard was space the lines in couplets–I can only fit 16 lines on a postcard printing in teeny-tiny handwriting, so the spacing had to go. 

I Don’t Usually Write Ekphrastic Poetry, But…

I was really happy with my Day 4 poem for the APPF, “How the Cypress Came to Be” (although there are a few iffy lines that could be improved).  I like “origin” poems, and in this one the speaker addresses Cyparissus about (accidentally) slaying the deer that Apollo gave him, and who, in grief, Apollo turns into a tree.  

In Dubufe’s picture, Cyparissus is draped over the deer, and Apollo is gazing at him rather tenderly.  (Well, this was in the Hidden Love postcard book.)  I was looking online for that image so you could see it, and  so far I haven’t found one in color, but you can see it  here in black and whiteBoth of the figures are slender, hardly muscularly developed at all ( youths, I guess you’d say), though Apollo is clearly older, and the concern–love, maybe–that he shows Cyparissus is evident in the way he holds the younger man.  

The Apollo in Dubufe’s picture is much more emotional than the  disdainful Apollo who appears in Pietro Perugino’s Apollo and Marsyas, the image on the postcard I sent yesterday.  I like this painting because it’s from the Renaissance, with a beautiful orangey patina and lovely depth of field.  And the appearance of castle and the mountains in the background amuses me, if only because it strikes me as anachronistic, as if this scene from Greek mythology happened in medieval Italy.  Perugino was known for his more Catholic art, though I seem to recall vaguely that Michelangelo  called him a hack.  Still, there is something almost sweet in the way Perugino has painted Marsyas as he plays his aulos-reed pipe.

In my poem, “Competition,” the speaker addresses Marsyas’s eagerness to engage in a music contest with Apollo, and is critical of him, particularly because in the myth, the Muses are the ones who judge this contest AND Apollo is basically the Muses’ choir master (a slight conflict of interest).  Clearly this is a myth about the perils of hubris, although I like to think in my poem I hint that the reason that Marsyas dies is not simply because the Muses choose Apollo as the winner, but rather because Marsyas was indeed the superior musician, and Apollo was jealous.

However, I am neither a scholar of art nor mythology, so I’m sure there are errors in what I have written here.

I know that the point of the APPF is to try to write a poem that somehow communicates what people usually use postcards for–to write about place.  According to the website, we’re to write about:

. . . Something that relates to your sense of “place” however you interpret that, something about how you relate to the postcard image, what you see out the window, what you’re reading, using a phrase/topic/or image from a card that you got, a dream you had that morning, or an image from it, etc. Like “real” postcards, get to something of the “here and now” when you write.

Perhaps I should make my poems more personal?  Postcards are generally personal, focused on the I.  Although, I have to say, in both of these last two poems, I’ve used direct address, so in a way, I am in the poems.  (Yes, I know, the speaker of a poem isn’t necessarily the poet–please, I wasn’t born yesterday.)  We’ll see.

Tomorrow I think I will choose the postcard of Donato Creti’s painting, The Education of Achilles by Chiron.  I hope the poem will turn out well.

On Prose Poems

I was reading Christine Swint’s blog; she had posted her Day 6 Poem of the APPF, and I marvel at how she responds both to a poem she read by Lucia Perillo and takes ideas and creates a wonderful new prose poem about, as she says, “crows, sort of about women and what they wear.”  

In the poem, the blackness of crows comes in “black jeans and a sooty vest” and in “shoe-polish” hued hair.  Black is fashion and danger; crows themselves are often considered harbingers of death in mythology, and they eat carrion.

And twice the word “murder” appears in Christine’s poem,  which is interesting because it highlights the connection between death and crows, but it is also characterized as belonging to “her,” the female “crow” on the poem.  Is this crow a victim, or has she committed murder?   But she is not dead–indeed this crow “dances the Merengue with the others.”  

Christine’s poem is wonderful and strange, which to me is always the hallmark of a strong prose poem–a form that is completely mysterious to me.   I’ve tried writing prose poems.  They are, like my attempts at fiction, not to be borne.  And yet I am drawn to them–prose poems will usually quickly find a home in Chickenpinata (although we haven’t received many of them).  I probably ought to read some books about them as a form and educate myself. 

I’m not really sure why I like them–except, I wonder if it has to do with the fact that they are generally chock full of things–it’s a little bit harder to be abstract, I think, when you are writing a kind of paragraph of words that all have to be poetic.  I really admire those, like Christine, who can write them well.  You should all check her blog and read “This Crow is Not a Fashion Model.”

Speaking of the APPF, I sent off my Day 3.  I realize, when I mentioned in an early blog post about a “starter poem,” that was really Day 1.  So instead of having written 4 poems by today, I’ve only written 3.  That’s ok, as long as I come up with something for tomorrow.

I bought this postcard book called Hidden Love:  Art and Homosexuality, which has some really amazing art prints in it, and which I’ve decided will comprise the majority of the postcards I send.  (Some pictures are basically crotch shots of male genitalia, which is less impressive, and actually I worry that I could even send them in the mail–with my luck, they’d be flagged for pornography.)

But the poem I want to write for tomorrow is based on the painting Apollo and Cyparissus by Claude -Marie Dubufe (1790-1864).  If I’d been thinking, I would have written down the titles of the art on the two other postcards I’ve already sent, but alas and alack.  Anyway, I’ll keep up with it now.

I still haven’t received any postcards yet, but then when it comes to the USPS, I am cursed, so I won’t start worrying that I’ve been forgotten by other Poetry Postcard people until Friday.

So far, here are the titles of the poems I’ve sent:

8/1  “Folk Tale”

8/2  “Garden Variety”

8/3  “Competition”

Writing with a Weak Will

I needed to write a poem today for the APPF, but I didn’t.  I had a migraine for most of the day, and when I didn’t have a migraine, I didn’t feel like writing a poem.  And now it’s 20 after 11 and I don’t feel remotely like doing anything poetic.  Not that it matters, because the little book of postcards and the stamps for them are sitting in my office.  I’ll have to write a couple of poems to make up for it tomorrow, and then get them all in the mail on Monday.

It’s kind of bad that it’s only the first of August and I’m already behind with the postcard poems though.  The postcard that was for today I put in the mail yesterday or Thursday.  It’s going to Ottawa, but of course it won’t arrive there till probably sometime next week.  It costs 79 cents to mail a postcard to Canada.  That seems awfully pricey, when it’s only about $1 to send a card-card to England.  Oh well.  I hope the person I sent it to likes it.  The poem I sent was “Garden Variety,” the same one that Karen read yesterday on the Plinth.  Which, while I’m thinking of it, I need to send to Christine Swint, because she wanted to read it.

I’m really amazed at people who can write in multiple genres.  Right now I’m thinking of Collin Kelley, whose novel Conquering Venus, is coming out a little later in August, I think.  He writes in all kinds of genres–poetry, fiction, news.  Probably other genres I don’t know about.  How do people do that?  How do they have so much to say that they can say it in multiple genres?

I can’t write fiction.  I’ve tried.  It comes out dreadful.  And it’s too bad too, because clearly I have a narrative strain in my poetry, and I have the desire to write fiction (and memoir, for that matter), and flesh out characters who do interesting things.  Oh, maybe I don’t have The Great American Novel in me, but I might have an Entertaining Bit of Fluff in me.  Or I would if I had an attention span longer than a gnat’s.  

I suppose, like any writing, you have to work at it.  But poetry is hard enough for me as it is, and I’m not nearly as dedicated to it as I ought to be.  Can you imagine me trying to write a novel?  I’d probably write 20 pages, get bored, and tack on a “The End” before my main character even finished her Cheerios.